You can apply ethical principles in almost every situation. These principles characterise certain behaviours as wrong, including cheating, exploitation, abuse, deception and theft. Someone who is ethical focuses on the well being of others rather than egotistical or self-serving actions. The concept of ethical reasoning is often distorted by those who fuse theological or sociocentric reasoning into universal ethical reasoning.
The Fundamentals of Ethical Reasoning
Fundamentally, ethical thinking is rational thinking. Its reasoning places the rights and needs of others before one's own egocentric wants and needs by evaluating a situation and seeing everything realistically, eliminating theological, political, legal and sociocentric influences. Ethical reasoning contains a basic structure that is the basis for all reasoning. All thinking generates a purpose, raises questions, utilises information and concepts to make inferences or assumptions, analyses implications and assumes a specific perspective.
What differentiates ethical reasoning from other forms is the logical thought process that you utilise. The questions elicited by this system of thought focus on helping rather than harming. The information you consider will focus primarily on actions that avoid harming others, and the inferences made from this information should not be egocentric. The essential concept of ethical reasoning is that mankind is meant to preserve the well-being of others by acting in a way that is not deceptive or harmful, and the logical assumption is that humans are capable of understanding these concepts. Ethical reasoning considers the implications of actions prior to assuming a point-of-view, and will generally opt for a perspective that preserves the rights and well-being of others.
Advantages of Ethical Reasoning
Ethical reasoning assumes that everyone will make choices that will cause no harm. Consequently, an ethical society will prohibit unethical actions, such as slavery, genocide, torture, sexism, racism, murder, assault, rape, fraud, deceit and intimidation. True ethical reasoning excludes actions that are based on spiritual or social customs and does not persecute any specific group for their beliefs.
For example, slavery was never ethical, although it was once legal in America. In fact, a major dilemma to many who condemned the system of slavery was whether it was unethical or immoral to aid runaway slaves or to remain quiet rather than returning the slave to their master. This was due to sociocentric reasoning, whose elements are often confused and applied to ethical reasoning.
Likewise, a religious group might seek to exclude meat from a school menu on Good Friday, using ethical reasoning as the basis for their assertion. However, theological reasoning is not ethical reasoning and is not universal; Good Friday is not celebrated by every religion. Those who celebrate Ramadan will fast during that season, and prohibiting meat on Good Friday is similar to insisting that during the month of Ramadan, no food is served in schools.
Disadvantages of Ethical Reasoning
Although ethical reasoning is meant to determine actions that are in the best interest of everyone, the course of action is not always clear-cut. For instance, if you assume that it is cruel to subject an innocent creature to harm, is it unethical to use mice for experiments that could potentially save human lives? Is it unethical to keep someone alive in a vegetative state? If you determine that it is cruel and unethical to keep someone alive in a vegetative state, is it ethical to allow him to die, assuming that killing is unethical? Is capital punishment ever justifiable, ethically? In a time of war, is it unethical to mimic practices of the enemy against them? Although generally, all things being equal, ethical reasoning is simple, all things are not equal, and determining the true ethical route can be difficult and subjective. Many answers to questions like these can not be judged unequivocally as right or wrong.
Becoming an Ethical Thinker
Becoming an ethical thinker takes practice. Human nature is primarily self-preserving, and although ethical reasoning does not require a philanthropic sacrifice, it requires the elimination of egocentrism and self-rationalisation for egocentric reasoning. Hitler believed that his actions were ethical and he convinced a nation of people that members of the Jewish religion were inferior to the Aryan race. True ethical reasoning, however, would not have resulted in the cruelty and suffering caused by Hitler's egocentric reasoning. To be an ethical thinker, you must recognise that humans are, by nature, susceptible to egotism and self-deception or rationalisation for egotistical actions.